Risky Play

We often reminisce about what play was like “back in the day”. We would climb fences to run down to the creek and search for salamanders. It seems that children today have very structured play in part due to “helicopter” parents and in part due to an averseness to risk. 

The Canadian Pediatric Society recently made new recommendations that suggest that a return to unstructured play, even when some risk is involved, might be a good thing for our children. The suggestion is that this type of play is important for both physical and emotional well-being. 

That type of play varies by child, but is generally defined as “thrilling and exciting free play that involves uncertain outcomes and the possibility of physical injury.” 

This is such a departure from ways in which we have structured our children’s lives in recent years. Free play can allow children to develop agency, to learn to take risks and to feel efficacy. Of course, there are some caveats. The statement issued also suggests that there be adequate supervision and that risk of significant injury be mitigated by ensuring a safe environment. Children should not be allowed to play in hazardous areas or pushed outside their comfort zones, the guidelines state. 

Some studies indicate lower risks of childhood obesity when children are allowed to play freely. There is also better conflict resolution and better overall confidence resulting from free play. In fact, Impact Early Living gives the following 21 good outcomes from free play: 

  1. Chance to succeed or fail 
  2. Teamwork 
  3. Recognize areas for improvement 
  4. Cope with stress 
  5. Without risky play you could become risk averse or become an adrenalin junky
  6. Form positive attitudes 
  7. Social interaction 
  8. Improve creativity 
  9. Understand the environment 
  10. Communication 
  11. Talk about experiences 
  12. Motor skills 
  13. Health 
  14. Fun 
  15. Mental health 
  16. Decision making 
  17. Learn about mortality 
  18. Resilience 
  19. Experience fear 
  20. Prepare for life 
  21. Experience exhilaration 

So let them search for salamanders (just not crocodiles) in a (shallow) creek with parental supervision just several steps away. 


Dr. Bhooma Bhayana is a family physician in London and the mother of two young men and proud grandmother of three! She continues to find wonder and enjoyment in family practice despite more than 30 years on the job!


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